The armed men who assaulted eight-year-old Shahab al-Akhras on a street corner in Rafah covered their faces with balaclavas. Shahab, who is small for his age, was wearing the hata, the black-and-white checked scarf associated with Fatah - the party once led by the late Yasser Arafat.The point about clans is terrifically important, as one cannot understand the history of Palestinian Arabs without understanding clans - or, historically, tribes. The average Palestinian Arab historically tends to identify far more with his clan than with the national movement.
The four men who pushed him into a corner and thrashed his hands on new year's day were wearing the uniforms of Hamas's Executive Force, these days Fatah's deadly rival. 'They took off my shoes and put them on the scarf and stamped on them,' he said. 'Then they told me to put out my arms in front of me and beat me with a stick. They said that if they saw me wearing the scarf again they would shoot me in the legs. I hate them!'
The internal struggle between the Islamist Hamas and the Fatah movement in Gaza - which Hamas thought it had won after three days of fighting last June - has resurfaced. While acts of violence continue to be committed by adults on both sides, the battleground now is over Gaza's children....The case of Shahab al-Akhras is far from unique. Anecdotal evidence suggests teenagers are arrested and threatened, or their families are threatened. Ahmad Arawar, 16, was playing football in a sandy back alley. His story is typical. 'The Executive Force arrested me and beat me up last year at the Arafat memorial.' He was wearing the hata and trying to post a picture on a wall. His friend Faris Bakr, 12, said: 'I am Fatah because it is my origin. I'm not afraid of Hamas.'
Iyad Sarraj blames a wider issue than the simple question of competing politics - and factional fighting - for what is happening. For children who have witnessed the breakdown of family relationships or lost respect for fathers whom they have seen beaten or threatened, Sarraj believes the factions seem to offer protection, certainty and discipline. 'Hamas, for instance, functions as a clan,' he said. 'It is a new family. It offers protection to the children who follow it. It offers an identity.'
This is a topic I plan to explore in much more detail in a future post, hopefully.